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Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845-1855

Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845-1855

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Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845-1855

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7 ore
Jun 19, 2003


Between 1845 and 1855, 2 million Irish men and women fled their famine-ravaged homeland, many to settle in large British and American cities that were already wrestling with a complex array of urban problems. In this innovative work of comparative urban history, Matthew Gallman looks at how two cities, Philadelphia and Liverpool, met the challenges raised by the influx of immigrants.

Gallman examines how citizens and policymakers in Philadelphia and Liverpool dealt with such issues as poverty, disease, poor sanitation, crime, sectarian conflict, and juvenile delinquency. By considering how two cities of comparable population and dimensions responded to similar challenges, he sheds new light on familiar questions about distinctive national characteristics--without resorting to claims of "American exceptionalism." In this critical era of urban development, English and American cities often evolved in analogous ways, Gallman notes. But certain crucial differences--in location, material conditions, governmental structures, and voluntaristic traditions, for example--inspired varying approaches to urban problem solving on either side of the Atlantic.

Jun 19, 2003

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J. Matthew Gallman is professor of history at the University of Florida.

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Receiving Erin's Children - J. Matthew Gallman

Receiving Erin’s Children

Receiving Erin’s Children

Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845–1855


The University of North Carolina Press  Chapel Hill and London

© 2000

The University of North Carolina Press All rights reserved

Set in New Baskerville and Clarendon by

Tseng Information Systems

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gallman, J. Matthew (James Matthew)

Receiving Erin’s children : Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish famine migration, 1845-1855/J. Matthew Gallman.

p. cm.

Includes index.

ISBN 0-8078-2534-4 (cloth : alk. paper). — ISBN 0-8078-4845-x (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Irish Americans—Pennsylvania—Philadelphia—History— 19th century. 2. Immigrants—Pennsylvania—Philadelphia—History— 19th century. 3. Irish—England—Liverpool— History—19th century. 4. Immigrants—England—Liverpool—History—19th century.

5. Philadelphia (Pa.)—Emigration and immigration—History—19th century. 6. Ireland— Emigration and immigration—History—19th century. 7. Ireland—History—Famine, 1845-1852. 8. Liverpool (England)—Emigration and immigration—History—19th century.

9. Philadelphia (Pa.) —Social conditions —19th century. 10. Liverpool (England)—Social conditions—19th century. I. Title.

F158.9.16G35 2000 942-7′53081-dc21 99-42768


04 03 02 01 00 5 4 3 2 1


For Robert E. Gallman (1926–1998)



Chapter 1 Immigrants and Hosts

Chapter 2 Migration and Reception

Chapter 3 Poverty, Philanthropy, and Poor Relief

Chapter 4 Hospitals, Cholera, and Medical Care

Chapter 5 Environmental Reform

Chapter 6 Sectarian Conflicts: Churches and Schools

Chapter 7 Street Violence and the Pursuit of Public Order





I have been working on this project, on and off, for more than a decade, and I have been thinking about some of the underlying questions for at least twice that long. In that time I have accumulated many debts, both personal and professional.

This book grew out of several long-standing scholarly interests. This is not a traditional study of the Irish famine migrants; rather, it is a comparative analysis of how two of the most important host cities—Liverpool and Philadelphia—responded to emerging policy dilemmas in the midst of the Irish famine. As I explain more fully in the first chapter, I selected this project out of the conviction that some of the crucial questions in American history are best examined in a comparative context. This comparative perspective was central to my early graduate training at Brandeis University, and I owe a special thanks to Morton Keller and Steve Schuker who ran a particularly rigorous graduate seminar in comparative history. My fascination with the social history of Victorian England began long before I became a professional historian, when my family visited England and I spent a year as a fifth former preparing for the O level exams. I cultivated these interests in nineteenth-century England during my early years in graduate school and then set them aside until I began this project. Most recently I have been drawn, in both my scholarship and teaching, to the ways in which cities and national governments address a variety of social ills, particularly those affecting the materially disadvantaged. Although my conclusions on these topics have been shaped by the traditional process of reading and research, I would also like to acknowledge the important impact of Loyola College’s Center for Values and Service—and all the marvelous friends and colleagues associated with the Center—in helping me place both my questions and my findings in a broader context.

This book would not have been possible without substantial material assistance from several sources. I began work with the support of a summer research fellowship from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia. The National Endowment for the Humanities supported me through one summer of research and later provided me with a year-long Fellowship for College Teachers to draft the manuscript. Loyola College’s Center for the Humanities—also funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities—awarded me a semester-long pretenure sabbatical, and Loyola’s Faculty Development committee and the dean of Arts and Sciences funded three summers of travel and research as well as a year-long sabbatical. I only hope that this finished product justifies such generous support and provides further evidence that these national and campus-based programs are vital to ongoing scholarship, especially for faculty at liberal arts colleges with a strong commitment to teaching.

I did most of my research in Philadelphia and Liverpool, two marvelous cities to visit and study. While in Philadelphia, I received special assistance from the librarians and archivists at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia City Archives. I would also like to thank the librarians at the University of Pennsylvania and the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. Most of my research time in Liverpool was spent at the superb Liverpool Record Office and the Local History Library (both housed in the William Brown Library) and at the many fine libraries at the University of Liverpool. I would also like to thank the staffs at the Lancashire Record Office in Preston, the Merseyside Record Office, the Public Record Office in London, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Merseyside Police Station (where I found little information but was presented with a replica policeman’s badge on my departure!), and the small Cathedral archives. I was able to maintain a productive research agenda while in Baltimore through the assistance of Loyola College’s Center for the Humanities, which paid for numerous reels of microfilm; the dean of Arts and Sciences, who approved the purchase of a microfilm reader for my home use; the painstaking efforts of the Inter Library Loan department at the Loyola-Notre Dame Library; and the fine collection down the street at the Milton Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University.

My personal debts in the writing of this book are too numerous to name. My colleagues and students during my twelve years at Loyola College helped create an ideal environment for teaching, writing, and living. My new colleagues at Gettysburg College have done the same as I have put the finishing touches on this manuscript. I would like to offer a special thanks to Barbara Vann and Tom Pegram for their years of friendship and words of counsel on this project. During my visits to Merseyside I enjoyed the good cheer and companionship of Father Denis Marmion and the folks at Our Lady’s Church and Presbytery in Birkenhead. Many scholars at the University of Liverpool shared ideas and friendship during my visits. I am especially indebted to Paul Laxton for being such a gracious host and diligent correspondent. I would also like to thank John Belchem, Patrick Buckland, Gerry Kearns, Roger Swift, and Michael Tadman for their warm hospitality. I am grateful to Margaret Proctor and Gordon Read for taking the time to point me to useful sources. During my summer as a Historical Society of Pennsylvania-Library Company of Philadelphia research fellow in Philadelphia I enjoyed the company of a diverse group of fellow researchers and the unflagging enthusiasm of the Library Company’s Jim Green, who has remained a good colleague and valuable resource. In subsequent visits to Philadelphia I took advantage of the hospitality of my old and dear friends C. Dallett Hemphill and John Hill.

It is the nature of such a comparative project that I was routinely wandering onto unfamiliar terrain, learning from scholars who had long been in the field ahead of me. Many people took time out to meet with me, answer a letter or E-mail, or read a chapter or conference paper. In addition to the British scholars noted above, I would like to thank Howard Wach, Patricia Seleski, Susan Tananbaum, Priscilla Clement, Charles Rosenberg, Eric Monkkonen, Judith Hunter, Deidre Mageean, W. J. Lowe, and the late Dennis Clark for words of support or advice. I also owe a particular word of thanks to my two readers for the University of North Carolina Press, Roger Lane and Jon Gjerde, and to my editor, Lewis Bateman.

In truth, these occasional exchanges with scholars in the field (some of which were so modest and so long ago that they have probably been forgotten by the acknowledgee) barely scratch the surface of my scholarly debts. In the chapters that follow I have tried to make some sense of a wide range of topics as they affected life in mid-nineteenth-century England and the United States. Each topical chapter combines my own interpretation of original sources with a broad synthesis of the relevant scholarship. Thus, many of my most substantial intellectual debts are acknowledged in the endnotes to each chapter. I hope that these notes properly convey my deep admiration for the many scholars from whose work I have learned.

I conclude these acknowledgments, much as I did in another book nearly a decade ago, by thanking three men who offered advice on this manuscript and who have been central to my thinking about the discipline of history and about the profession of historian. Morton Keller and Stanley Engerman each read early drafts of this book and offered characteristically wise counsel on matters large and small. I am truly fortunate to have had both of these wonderful scholars as mentors and advisers. If I could have answered all of their suggestions I am sure that the result would have been much stronger. My deepest personal and intellectual debts are to my father, Robert E. Gallman. We talked about this project and he read drafts of most of the chapters, and in that immediate sense the book is better from his efforts. But in a much larger sense this book is simply the most recent product of a lifetime of learning from my father. The ideas that follow really owe more to other scholars I have acknowledged above, but the fact that I have written it at all owes everything to his example. Robert Gallman’s life and his career are a model that I can only hope to emulate. I wish that he had lived long enough to see this book into print. It is with great pride that I dedicate it to his memory.

I write these words at the end of a very challenging year. I would like to close by thanking my sisters, Anita Cotuna and Eve Potgieter, and my brothers-in-law Theo Cotuna and Kurt Potgieter, and my mother, Jane Gallman, for many, many things.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Receiving Erin’s Children

1: Immigrants and Hosts


In July 1847 eighteen-year-old Ann Murphy left home for Belfast on a journey that would eventually lead her to Philadelphia. She carried with her a steerage ticket for passage from Liverpool to Philadelphia on the Susquehanna, one of the packet ships owned by Philadelphia’s H & A Cope Company. Theodore Wilson, an Irishman living in Philadelphia, had purchased the ticket at the Cope Company’s Walnut Street offices on January 22. Before mailing the ticket, Wilson had scrawled a few hasty words of advice on the back:

[Tell] her to pay particular attention to the following directions I am going to give her, when she has got her sea store and clothes packed up as small bulk as possibel she can get to Belfast by the best conveyance and get put on board the steamer for Liverpool in Belfast and on board the boat she must be very careful of herself and things and form no acquaintance with any body, and take care of any body medling with her things when she arrives in Liverpool and she can find one of the Steam Boat porters to take her to the office of [Harnden and Company?].¹

The following February, Margaret McKee and her friend Catherine Ronaghan arrived at the Liverpool docks with steerage tickets—also for the Susquehanna—purchased in Philadelphia by Margaret’s brother Michael. Michael’s written advice and warnings picked up where Theodore Wilson’s had left off: Inquire for Copes office and show them this and you will get your passage, be there on the eighth of the month that you are going to come bring herrings plenty with you that is the mainstay on board of ship … when you come on the ship … be wise and take care of yourselves for board of ship is an awful place and make no freedom with any person and no one will enterfere with yous keep to your selves when you land.²

Ann, Margaret, and Catherine were all part of the massive Irish migration during the potato famine. The history of the famine and migration has been told often, from many different perspectives, and needs no detailed retelling here.³ In the fall of 1845 a deadly blight struck the potato crop in eastern Ireland. The next year the potato famine swept across the country. In 1847 the potato crop was small, although the yields were actually fairly strong, but 1848 saw another round of disaster. Four years of poor harvests took a tremendous toll, as a weakened citizenry fell easy victim to typhus, dysentery, and other deadly diseases. By some estimates, roughly a million Irish men and women—or about a ninth of the total population—succumbed to starvation and disease because of the famine.⁴ Many others faced eviction or fled their homes in search of new lives. Between 1845 and 1855 an estimated 1.5 million Irish women and men sailed for the United States, landing largely in New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Boston, and Baltimore. Another 600,000 left Ireland for England, Canada, Australia, and other destinations.⁵

During the peak of the Irish famine migration the H & A Cope Company—which had five vessels in operation in 1848—was sending packet ships westward from Liverpool to Philadelphia on the twelfth of every month. The passenger lists ranged from as few as 150 to well over 300 steerage travelers per voyage, the vast majority coming originally from Ireland.⁶ Between January 1847 and the end of 1849, Cope’s Philadelphia offices sold more than 2,500 tickets for passage from Liverpool, primarily to Irish immigrants who mailed them home to friends and relatives. Perhaps a hundred or so of the small notes written on the back of tickets survive.⁷ Taken together they describe a world of great opportunities, but a journey fraught with dangers and hardship. John Stott’s message to John and Sarah Glehill and their four young daughters was typical: we hope that you will brace your nerves and steel your face and be nothing daunted and you will soon join with us on this Great Continent. There will be dificultyes to meet with but then consider the object you have in view.⁸ Often those difficulties would be from strangers, with familiar sounding brogues, who haunted the Liverpool and Philadelphia docks preying on migrants who carried all their possessions in their hands and their savings in their pockets. One correspondent warned Howard Berne that Liverpool is full of Imposters if they can trick any person they can lay hold of … you will require to be very cautious & clever & no way shy without getting your rights.⁹ Mary Kon left home with explicit instructions to seek out a Mr. Lynch in Liverpool; if he did not appear she was to inquire for the Constable and show him the card and he will dirrect you wher the house is.¹⁰ Catherine Cardary directed Alice Cleland to a small court off of Carlton Street opposit the cloureness dock liverpool, adding that we think you would be safer there thane aney other plase when you lave the steem boat.¹¹

Other notes offered advice on what food to pack to supplement the meager official rations and appropriate clothing for the voyage. My advice to you wrote Hugh Clark to Mary Clark, is to keep off the Deck in the night and stormy times as it is dangeres[.] you will want [a] tin pan … in the shape of a bottil that will hold 4 qt for your fresh water[.] you will want some tin plats and some tin cups and a boiler[.] you need not get any new close [clothes] as it is not the fashins in america that thy hav at home.¹² Many other correspondents shared this last suggestion. Apparently clothing in Philadelphia was sufficiently inexpensive and distinctive that even the humblest migrant should expect to acquire a new wardrobe on arrival.

Those immigrants who were fortunate enough to have relatives or friends in the United States were generally told to hurry to a particular lodging house or tavern near the docks where a friendly face would await them. One woman was to Inquire for William Rushworth at the English Tav[ern,] No 87 South Water Street Philadelphia.¹³ Another correspondent told his nineteen-year-old brother that when he lands in Philadelphia Enquire for 252 North Water Street and you will find your Friend to welcome you.¹⁴ Catherine Whelan told her brother and sister to come to Mrs. Weines[,] 159 Front Street between Spruce St and Dock St.¹⁵ Some of the Philadelphians who mailed tickets promised to meet each of the Cope vessels until their relative arrived. Whatever their economic prospects, strangers were best off with a trustworthy human contact as a buffer against a potentially hostile new world.

The disaster that struck Ireland in the late 1840s had a very real agricultural basis. By some estimates the lost potato crop between 1846 and 1848 was enough to have fed almost five million people daily. Nonetheless, the Irish peasantry had ample reason to see human agency behind their troubles. Parliamentary debates about the Irish crisis moved within tight ideological constraints, shaped by a trio of powerful—and often painfully abstract—ruling principles: localism, laissez-faire economics, and less eligibility. Landlords, encouraged by public policy, sometimes ruthlessly drove starving tenants from their homes; between 1846 and 1855 an estimated half-million people faced eviction. The public relief forthcoming from Parliament amounted to a tiny portion of the nation’s resources, as policymakers clung to a faith in charitable assistance and local poor rates.¹⁶ One historian has described the Great Famine as the tragic outcome of three factors: an ecological accident that could not have been predicted, an ideology ill-geared to saving lives and, of course, mass poverty.¹⁷ A similar confluence of factors—material conditions, intellectual assumptions, and the serendipity of events—shaped the experiences of the Irish migrants as they fled their homeland.

Proximity and shipping routes dictated that most emigrants headed for Liverpool. The first step in the journey would be overland to an Irish port, where crowded ferries made the crossing to the Merseyside city in twenty-four hours or more. Many would remain in the thriving port city, either by design, or because of limited resources, or simply because disease took its toll too quickly. Others soon boarded ships bound for North America. Along the way the weary, often sickly travelers were subject to all sorts of dangers. The passage across the Irish Sea was barely regulated. Ferry operators cared little for health and sanitation as they crammed as many deck passengers as they could onto each vessel. The migrants arrived in Liverpool seasick, exhausted, and ripe for plucking at the hands of an assortment of unscrupulous runners, lodging house keepers, ticket brokers, and other crooks. The lucky ones had a place to sleep and prepaid passages in hand. However long they stayed, the migrants found themselves in a world of crowded housing, unsanitary streets, and ethnic tension. For those who set off for North America, the hardships were just beginning. Ships varied tremendously in size and condition, generally falling far short of their advertised specifications. A slowly evolving set of laws regulated the amount of sleeping space, the food and water to be allocated for each passenger, and the circumstances when a surgeon was required to be on board. But much of the most important legislation passed on both sides of the Atlantic came after the heaviest migration. On their arrival at an American port, passengers were liable to physical inspection, quarantine, and perhaps prohibitive bonds. As they disembarked, the exhausted immigrants were once again targets for competing armies of shady characters and diverse philanthropists. It is no wonder that the snippets of advice written on the back of the Cope tickets stressed packing food and clothing with care and trusting no one along the way.¹⁸

The famine migrants are at the center of this book, but it is not really their story. Rather, it is the story of the worlds that they entered and the ways in which their presence helped to change those worlds.¹⁹ If the circumstances of their exodus and the nature of their journeys reflected the combined forces of historic chance, contemporary ideology, and material circumstances, so too did the evolution of their new homes. This book compares the histories of two important host cities—Liverpool and Philadelphia—during the famine years. It is an attempt to understand how the famine migration both illuminated and shaped circumstances and policies in each city and nation. In a broader sense, this study seeks to use the years of the famine migration to compare two societies at a crucial moment in their histories.

As for any historical study, the design of this book reflects several conscious decisions, each with its own underlying assumptions. The project has its genesis in a desire to examine nineteenth-century urban development, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which cities confronted the broad array of social challenges that accompanied increased size and population density. Having spent considerable time studying Northern cities during the American Civil War, I was drawn to the immediate antebellum decades as the occasion for many of the most crucial urban developments. I also brought to this project an interest in comparative history and a conviction that my examination of these urban questions should not be confined to a single nation. Clearly English and American cities faced many of the same challenges at roughly the same time. My goal was to construct a study that would allow for a profitable comparative analysis across the Atlantic.²⁰

The decision to focus on the Irish famine migration proceeded logically from this scholarly agenda. Given my interest in examining how cities in both England and the United States faced numerous midcentury challenges—including poverty, disorder, and disease—the central task was to sharpen the focus as much as possible to enhance the value of the comparison. The famine migrants did not create these urban problems, but their arrival made the circumstances more dire in some cities, suggesting the possibility that cities in both countries may have been addressing similar problems at roughly the same time. But that having been said, I also did not want to let the tail wag the dog. My comparative focus is on the responses to a specific set of urban problems during the famine years, not merely on the direct responses to the Irish newcomers. In some cases the analysis indicates that the crucial institutional developments preceded the migration, and in other instances the immigrants did not prove to be the major shaping forces in one or both cities. In such situations the focus remains on the emerging responses to the specific constellation of problems, not merely on the institutions and policies as experienced by the Irish immigrants.

The final preparatory decision was to compare Liverpool and Philadelphia. There were certainly other reasonable candidates, including London, Manchester, and Glasgow on one side of the Atlantic and New York, Boston, and Quebec on the other. I quickly excluded London as an option, both because it was several times larger than any American city at midcentury and because the Irish community had been already so carefully examined by Lynn Hollen Lees. Among the remaining alternatives, I selected Philadelphia and Liverpool largely because they were similar in size (both demographically and geographically) and had similarly large Irish populations, allowing for some control over those crucial variables.²¹ In selecting those two cities I was also opting for a relatively limited comparison, rather than, for instance, attempting an analysis of a half-dozen cities of different sizes and circumstances. This choice reflects a preference for depth over breadth. By limiting my research to two cities I have been able to address a wider range of topics in some detail, rather than restricting my attention to a single set of issues.²²


Liverpool and Philadelphia played similar roles in their respective worlds.²³ Second in size and importance to the dominant metropolises of London and New York, they both enjoyed international prominence as major ports and commercial centers. Between 1831 and 1851 the borough of Liverpool’s population jumped from 165,175 to 375,955. In the same two decades Philadelphia County’s population more than kept pace, rising from 167,751 to 408,742.²⁴ Both cities, too, had large Irish populations dating from well before the potato famine. By midcentury nearly 72,000 Philadelphians (17.6 percent) and 84,000 Liverpudlians (22.3 percent) were Irish-born immigrants.²⁵ Philadelphia’s population was otherwise more demographically diverse than its English counterpart, with nearly 50,000 (12 percent of the total population) non-Irish immigrants, including 22,750 (5.6 percent) Germans and 17,500 (4.3 percent) English natives. Over 10 percent of Liverpool’s residents were non-Irish immigrants, but the vast majority of these were from neighboring Wales (20,262, 5.4 percent) and Scotland (14,059, 3.7 percent), with a mere 1.4 percent from other nations. Nearly 5 percent (19,761) of Philadelphians were African American, giving the city a racial diversity almost completely absent in Liverpool.²⁶

A modern observer landing at either nineteenth-century port might well have been struck, at a visceral level, by the cities’ similarities. With sanitation measures lagging far behind needs, a newcomer’s senses would have been overwhelmed by the odors from scores of nuisances, ranging from overflowing privies to foul-smelling slaughterhouses and rag-and-bone shops.²⁷ But contemporary travelers, arriving with different sensibilities, generally stressed each city’s distinctive characteristics.

Americans landing in Liverpool marveled at the city’s magnificent docks. Herman Melville’s fictional Wellingborough Redburn never tired of admiring the long China walls of masonry; vast piers of stone; and … succession of granite-rimmed docks. To Redburn the docks were like the old Pyramids of Egypt, in sharp contrast to New York’s miserable wooden wharves.²⁸ Other travelers were equally impressed with the docks and with the view across the River Mersey to Birkenhead, which some observers compared to Brooklyn across the Hudson River from New York.²⁹

Like other nineteenth-century cities, Liverpool boasted a wide assortment of monuments and impressive public buildings.³⁰ A Stranger in Liverpool reported back to the Philadelphia Public Ledger that the public buildings of Liverpool are both numerous and beautiful and that the Nelson monument was particularly noteworthy.³¹ One Georgia diarist admired Liverpool’s large granite railroad terminal and the new Northern Hospital. Nathaniel Bowe was impressed with the rather nice dwelling places in the upper part of the City. Another observer, writing in The Workingman’s Friend and Family Instructor, insisted that the general appearance of Liverpool was more inviting than I had supposed. Its streets, though not so wide or regular as those of New York, are much cleaner, and better paved. But one suspects that that correspondent protested too much. More typical was a European traveler in the late 1850s who acknowledged that the George’s Hall which occupies a central site is a splendid and imposing edifice but generally concluded that Liverpool is a large and growing commercial emporium but with the exception of 2 or 3 public buildings of great magnificence there are but few objects that strike the stranger on his first arrival in the city. Even those travelers willing to praise a few buildings found much to criticize. The Public Ledger’s reporter wandered Liverpool’s streets and claimed that incredible as it may seem, [they] are much more filthy and irregular than New York’s. John Twiggs found the buildings … very dingy, being very much smoked, clouds of this article always overhanging the city. After several weeks of rain, mud, and smoke, the Georgian was thrilled to see the last of the miserable city. Soon after arriving to serve as U.S. consul to Liverpool, a melancholy Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote home that Liverpool is a most detestable place as a residence that ever my lot was cast in—smoky, noisy, dirty, pestilential.³²

Most visitors saved their harshest comments for Liverpool’s legions of paupers. The Ledgers Stranger in Liverpool reported:

I have seen more beggars in one week in Liverpool than I have ever seen in all my life. The streets are full of them; at every step you are arrested and often followed by the pitiful cries of distress and want. Poor, ragged and haggard wretches, with four and five barefooted and poorly clad children. The most of these distressed beings are Irish, and have been driven over the channel by the approach of starvation. Some of these poor creatures may be undeserving of charity, but most of them, I doubt not, are proper objects of Christian benevolence and kindness.³³

Nathaniel Hawthorne quickly became fascinated by his new city’s worst streets. Almost every day, he recorded in his diary, I take walks about Liverpool; preferring the darker and dingier streets, inhabited by the poorer classes. The scenes there are very picturesque in their way; at every two or three steps, a gin-shop; also [fil]thy in clothes and persons, ragged, pale, often afflicted with humors; women, nursing their babies on dirty bosoms; men haggard, drunken, care-worn, hopeless, but with a kind of patience, as if all this were the rule of their life. Later that week he declared: The people are as numerous as maggots in cheese; you behold them, disgusting, and all moving about, as when you raise a plank or log that has long lain on the ground, and find many vivacious bugs and insects beneath it. The entire experience left the transplanted New Englander convinced that it is worth while coming across the sea in order to feel one’s heart warm towards his own country.³⁴

Philadelphia fared better in the estimation of both American and foreign visitors. William Penn’s carefully laid out grid of streets—with a large, open square marking each corner—gave Philadelphia a sense of order that stood in sharp contrast to Liverpool’s bewildering web of streets and lanes, which wandered across the terrain more like those in Boston than in Philadelphia or even New York.³⁵ Philadelphians took pride in the city’s broad, clean, well-paved streets and in a host of grand public buildings.³⁶ A Bostonian writing in a local paper called Philadelphia a charming city to look at with handsome streets [and] wide sidewalks.³⁷

Europeans touring American cities were sure to pass through Philadelphia and visit several important sites. W. I. Mann’s experience was typical. In his brief stay the Liverpudlian stopped at Girard College Orphanage, which he found far too good for the little orphan boys that we saw running about, and the Fairmount Waterworks, which he grudgingly acknowledged would be a very pretty place in summer. Mann also shared the common observation that Philadelphia’s streets were much cleaner than those in New York City. Anne Holt, a young Liverpool Unitarian, spent several days in Philadelphia in May 1851. On arriving she noted that her first impression of Philadelphia is that it is a decidedly handsome city. She, too, toured the waterworks and Girard College, recording her admiration of both spectacles. Holt was also interested in visiting Philadelphia’s House of Refuge to see how local officials treated the poor. Southerner Henry L. Cathell made his own pilgrimage to Girard College in 1856. But although impressed with much of his visit, Cathell returned from a rainy afternoon walk with the conviction that There is but one description of the streets of this placet,] speaking of one you speak of all—viz—plain and straight—There are three predominant colours about the buildings—White, Red & Green—Homes built of brick that is red,—window sills … and front door trimmings of white marble & all woodwork painted white,—that is white—The blinds of windows, painted green—that is green. The sardonic Cathell had certainly resisted Philadelphia’s charms, but his criticism hardly compares with the more scathing indictments of Liverpool’s environment.³⁸

Although visitors passing through Liverpool and Philadelphia were most likely to note buildings, monuments, streets, and the like, the urban geography also presented a revealing map of each city’s economic, demographic, and political life. Liverpool’s tremendous docks spoke plainly of what one scholar described as the city’s single-minded devotion to furthering commerce. By midcentury steamers from Liverpool were a familiar sight in ports across the globe. This tradition of trade had often led the city to look toward America; Liverpool’s merchants grew rich trading slaves and cotton across the Atlantic. Between 1820 and 1850 four-fifths of the raw cotton entering England came through the port. The opening of the Liverpool-Manchester railroad in 1830 buttressed the city’s economic links to the industrial North, strengthening an already heavy trade in manufactured goods. Liverpool’s emphasis on commerce and its modest manufacturing sector combined to shape a workforce dominated by casual laborers. Workers could find ample day labor unloading ships, carting goods, or performing similar unskilled tasks, but only a small portion of local laborers worked in manufacturing.³⁹

Philadelphia, long a major trading port, had by the 1840s emerged as a leading industrial center even as it was losing ground commercially to New York City. The development of canals in the 1820s, and railroads in later decades, enabled Philadelphia manufacturers to look to the hinterlands for raw materials and markets. By 1850 Philadelphia County had 58,000 manufacturing workers. As manufacturing grew and railroad transportation developed, the districts surrounding the city blossomed into distinct communities, each with its own ethnic flavor. North of the city center, Kensington and Germantown were important textile centers attracting skilled immigrant workers. Germantown, for instance, became known as an important enclave for German stockingers. Several miles to the northwest, the borough of Manayunk—the self-styled Manchester of America—became home to British weavers and spinners. And as cotton and woolen textile industries boomed, Philadelphia’s machine works prospered by supplying the new factories.⁴⁰ We should not, however, overstate the impact of Philadelphia’s superior manufacturing base on its Irish newcomers. At midcentury Irish immigrants were far less likely to find skilled manufacturing work than their German and native-born brethren, clustering instead in day labor and other unskilled jobs, much like their counterparts in Liverpool.⁴¹

Although neither city had truly insular ethnic or racial ghettos, both Liverpool and Philadelphia had become increasingly segmented along ethnic and class lines.⁴² Neither Philadelphia nor Liverpool had developed streetcar lines by midcentury, but both cities had horse-drawn omnibus lines that enabled the wealthiest citizens to move away from the city centers. Philadelphia’s African American community supported a small, vibrant elite with a complex network of churches, newspapers, and institutions. But most Philadelphia blacks were poor. Many crowded into congested neighborhoods in Moyamensing, just south of the city center, a district that was also home to large numbers of Irish poor. Irish immigrants dispersed throughout both cities, but clustered in poor neighborhoods near the waterfronts. Philadelphia’s Irish were most concentrated in the industrial areas of Kensington and Southwark, north and south of the city. But unlike later immigrant groups, the Irish did not find a ready supply of deteriorating center city housing in which to settle.⁴³ In Liverpool, the populations in six wards adjoining the docks were roughly a quarter Irish-born in 1851, and two—Vauxhall and Exchange—were nearing half Irish-born.⁴⁴ Both cities had streets in these Irish neighborhoods that became notorious for their crowded, unsanitary conditions.⁴⁵

Like their physical and economic characteristics, the political structures of Liverpool and Philadelphia had essential similarities, but also marked differences. Both cities had an elected Council and a separate elected Board of Guardians to address the needs of the poor.⁴⁶ The bureaucratic structure of each city was complicated by a variety of separate political subdivisions. By midcentury the relatively compact city of Philadelphia was bordered by five built-up suburbs to the north and south. Philadelphia County included an additional twenty-three townships, boroughs, and districts. For most purposes these were distinct political units, with their own elected officeholders and police. But the outlying areas relied on the city for some services—water, for instance—and certain government bodies, such as the Board of Health and the Guardians of the Poor, had jurisdictions that went beyond the city boundaries. The 1854 Act of Consolidation solved many jurisdictional dilemmas by absorbing the entire county into the city of Philadelphia. The parish of Liverpool was divided into twelve wards. The borough of Liverpool, as extended in 1835, included the parish and an additional five extraparochial wards. The Council had jurisdiction over the entire borough, but Liverpool’s Guardians of the Poor—charged with administering poor relief and running the workhouse—only addressed parochial concerns. (In this sense, then, the cities were mirror images of each other: Philadelphia’s Council controlled a smaller area than the Guardians, whereas Liverpool’s Council administered an area touching more than one Poor Law Union.) Both Councils oversaw a range of committees, often composed of Council members, that attended to various new urban functions including policing, health, and sanitation. As we shall see, these Council committees occasionally conflicted with the local Guardians, revealing organizational shortcomings that were periodically aggravated by the flow of Irish migrants.⁴⁷

From the institution of its royal charter in 1207 until the 1830s the Corporation of Liverpool had been under the control of the city’s freemen, a hereditary body that initially included most adult males but eventually evolved into a small, closed group. Since 1695 the Council had consisted of elected councillors—who served for life—and a mayor, selected from among the councillors. The Council occasionally ventured into municipal reform, but the councillors generally concentrated on supporting local commercial interests, which often meant emphasizing the Liverpool docks. The 1835 Municipal Reform Act reorganized the Council and opened up the franchise to local ratepayers. Still, access to the vote remained limited. In 1832 Liverpool had a registered electorate of only 11,283; twenty years later that figure had climbed to 17,433,

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